Pittsburgh growing on Polamalu
When you make All-Pro and win a Super Bowl, your legend grows uncontrollably, as Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu discovered this offseason.
Perhaps you've heard the one about Polamalu dining at a local restaurant and, upon finishing his meal, announcing to the other patrons that he appreciated having his privacy respected so much he was picking up everyone's check.
Or the one that has Polamalu determined to bolt the Steelers and return to his native California as soon as his contract expires two seasons from now.
What could the rumor mill possibly churn out next?
"That I have like three kids coming, in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland," Polamalu said, jokingly, Monday afternoon at St. Vincent College. "And an affair with Angelina Jolie, as well, right?"
That Polamalu can laugh about such things reveals how comfortable he's become since arriving as an introspective No. 1 pick in 2003, one who seemingly had little interest in the daily media banter that's part of life for high-profile Steelers players.
It's not that Polamalu was uncooperative; he just never had much to say.
And what he said would be uttered in such subdued tones, it was often difficult to grasp.
Three-plus years later, Polamalu celebrated the occasion of the first two-a-day practices of training camp by holding court for the notebooks and microphones.
In doing so, he let everyone know he's not in California anymore.
"I told my wife, actually around my second year, that there's no better place to be than Pittsburgh," Polamalu said. "That's one thing that Pittsburgh has over everybody else, this camaraderie of the team and the great coaching situation and how well coach (Bill) Cowher takes care of you, the training staff and the ownership.
"It's home now. It really is home to me now. It's nice to go out there (to California) -- it's rejuvenating -- but it's nice to be home."
Polamalu has come to embrace Western Pennsylvania.
It's the place where he learned flyfishing shortly after joining the Steelers.
And it's a place where Polamalu believes he can make a difference, even if he can't come and go as he pleases in relative anonymity, the way he still can back in California.
"It (stinks), in a way, if you're eating dinner and people are bothering you," Polamalu said. "But it's beautiful, in a way, when you have a kid that's only got five days to live and the biggest thing in his life is wanting to meet a Steeler.
"It's happened to me a few times, and it's really awesome to affect people's lives. You can truly save people's lives like that. I've been in situations where people are at home, getting ready to die, doctors have given up on them, but they've been living like three, four months already.
"It's really beautiful in that way. In some ways, man, football is life here in Pittsburgh; it's their only hope. It's cool to be able to affect people in that way."
Polamalu wields such influence upon the masses because he helped deliver a Super Bowl title and because the manner in which he did so struck a chord in Western Pennsylvania's heart.
The relationship between Polamalu and the fans is such that he had no hesitation whatsoever about taking a "Nestea plunge" into the crowd at last February's championship parade.
He never lets them down; they weren't about to let him down.
They wear wigs to the games, celebrating his hairstyle.
He plays the way they envision they might, seemingly willing to sacrifice life and limb for the Steelers.
"I feel like I approach what I do and my living as a football player the way they do in this blue-collar mentality," Polamalu said. "That's a term thrown around a lot, but to say it and to live it and experience it, even at a high-paying job like a football player, it's no different to a hard-paying construction worker or a landscaper. It is a blue-collar mentality."
PolamaluTroy Polamulu has quickly earned a reputation for speaking softly and carrying a big hit. Here's a look at his career so far:
2003 - First-round pick, winner of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award (Steelers rookie of the year)
2004 - First-time starter at free safety, AFC Pro Bowl squad, second-team AP All-Pro
2005 - AFC Pro Bowl starter, first-team AP All-Pro, Super Bowl champion
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